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 The fine arts approach provides a strong traditional grounding (from classical busts and life models), which leaves many students with strong enough technical skills to bypass foundation courses. ‘My daughter had failed spectacularly at two other fee-paying schools,’ said one appreciative mother of a daughter now at a Russell Group university. ‘She thought she was a dunce until they took her under their wing. They produced an incredible turn around and she went from Cs to As.’ Not at all a hierarchical place, and students organise their own entertainment...

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What the school says...

Fine Arts College was founded in 1978 as an independent sixth form college specialising in the study of Arts and Humanities. Today the College offers a wide choice of subjects at GCSE and A level as well as a two-term Portfolio Course for students preparing for art school entry. The College is rated 'Outstanding' by Ofsted.

The College is located in a characterful part of Belsize Park with the main site situated in a secluded courtyard away from the bustle of the street. The courtyard buildings, originally a Victorian dairy, are modern and light-filled and comprise a series of lecture and tutorial rooms alongside art, drama and music studios. The College also houses specialist studios for photography and media studies nearby. Each of the tutorial rooms has its own extensive subject library including books, slides and DVDs.

The College functions on an ethos of mutual respect where an individuals talents and ambitions are encouraged and nurtured. For this reason the number of students is restricted to no more than 160, maintaining small class sizes and strong pastoral care for all students and ensuring an exceptional pass rate in exams. Virtually all students go on to higher education at a range of universities and art, music and drama schools.

Fine Arts College provides an opportunity for young people to study in a mature, open and stimulating atmosphere; a unique bridge between school and university.
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What the parents say...

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Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Candida Cave (50s) set up the college in 1978 with Nicholas Cochrane - who has recently retired as co-principal. They studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford, started teaching at a tutorial college and found ‘we were quite good at inspiring people’. The decision to set up a college of their own was something that just ‘came about’, but clearly had a market, and has grown steadily ever since. She remains a practising painter and playwright, while teaching art history. Parents and pupils are great fans of the warm and relaxed approach. ‘Candida Cave is what all parents dream of in a teacher, but think they’ll never meet,’ said one. ‘She’s imaginative and nurturing, but not a pushover. My daughter just fell in love with her.’

Academic matters

A very broad, almost exclusively arts-based curriculum (no science in the sixth form, though a few mathematicians). The visual arts remain, as one might expect, exceptionally popular. Photography is the number one subject choice but also large numbers for fine art and art history, English literature, textiles, graphic design, film studies and media studies. The fine arts approach provides a strong traditional grounding (from classical busts and life models), which leaves many students with strong enough technical skills to bypass foundation courses. (The college also runs a two-term post A level portfolio course, to ensure preparation for art degrees and art college is tip-top.) An extensive curriculum (29 subjects in all) of liberal arts, social sciences, modern languages (French, Spanish and Italian) and classical studies (Latin, Greek, ancient history and classical civilisation) can be taken in virtually any combination. Strong results overall at A level (20 per cent A*/A, 50 per cent A*-B grades in 2018), with English and fine art particularly stellar. Exceptionally high ‘valued added’ between GCSE and A level (fourth highest in the country) produced by caring teaching in small groups (classes never exceed nine).

‘My daughter had failed spectacularly at two other fee-paying schools,’ said one appreciative mother of a daughter now at a Russell Group university. ‘She thought she was a dunce until they took her under their wing. They produced an incredible turn around and she went from Cs to As.’

Also offers GCSEs, with two year groups of about 20 in all. ‘We find there’s a real need in year 10,’ says Candida Cave, ‘particularly when schools start saying, you should drop this or that.’ GCSE subjects include biology and some physics but probably not the place for nascent medics. In 2018, 76 per cent A*-C/9-4 grades. Staff long-serving and enthusiastic (including three ex-students and Candida Cave’s daughter), with a fair proportion who also have alternative lives as professional artists, film makers, etc. Teaching style relaxed but enthusiastic; student style, co-operative competition. ‘It’s very much teaching in discussion, they want to impress each other in a nice way,’ says Candida Cave. Good information given to parents and pupils about progress, with fortnightly reports and two parents' evenings. Rated outstanding by Ofsted in latest report.

Games, options, the arts

Plenty of opportunity to display talent, with an annual art exhibition, music and drama recital, and short films shown at the local Everyman Cinema. (One girl was recently runner-up for the Young Film Critic Award at Bafta.) Loads of outside speakers and cultural outings, with annual study trips to Florence, Paris and Venice. Not at all a hierarchical place, and students organise their own entertainment - ‘a certain number tend to take the lead each year’ - including charitable fundraising (for Breast Cancer awareness, the Red Cross, a local hospice) and other social events. Certainly not the ideal environment for the sporty (and few here care) but GCSE students have fencing lessons plus PE at a local sports centre and the college’s long-standing football team plays against other sixth-form colleges. Popular table tennis, too, on site.

Background and atmosphere

Started in 1978 in the YMCA in Tottenham Court Road, teaching art and art history. ‘We started because there wasn’t anyone else specialising in the arts,’ says Candida Cave. Moved to Belsize Park in 1982, started offering GCSEs in 1994, and then, in 2002, added a converted Victorian dairy, which now forms the hub of the school, providing rambling lateral space around a cobbled courtyard; is gradually taking over more buildings including what used to be the local hardware store. A good mix of classrooms (some more spacious than others) and excellent studio space, for art, drama, photography (with its own darkroom for traditional-style printing) and media studies. The atmosphere is intentionally informal and teachers are called by their first names. ‘The college was very much founded as a bridge between school and university. Many students come here because they’re looking for something more flexible.’ Students congregate in the common room, where free coffee is on offer, but no food supplied on site. Some bring sandwiches, the majority visit the multitude of local eateries. Dress code vaguely artistic and bohemian (the odd fur gilet and extreme make up, the majority in UGGs and tracksuits), but kept well within limits. ‘If it offends, we tell them to dress properly. It’s just common sense.’

Bought by Dukes Education in 2015.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘What we liked about the college', said one parent, ‘is the industrious informality. They take the job seriously, but don’t wear it too formally.' Pupils' work and well-being is immaculately monitored. Everyone has a personal tutor, whom they see for an hour and a half each week. The tutor goes through reports, helps with essay-writing and advises on university applications. All GCSE pupils sign in at 9am and again at 1.30pm. If pupils are not in class an email is sent to parents within half an hour. ‘Pupils turn up because they want to,’ said one parent. ‘But, equally, they know that if they can’t be bothered to turn up, the attitude will be, don’t bother to come back.’ Most have no problems with this. ‘I’ve never been to a school before where all the other pupils want to learn,’ said one boy. Students sign a contract of behaviour, so know exactly what is expected, and misbehaviour, social or academic, is followed by an oral warning, a written warning, and then a parental meeting. ‘We’ve not excluded anyone for eight to nine years, and not even suspended anyone for a long time,’ says Candida Cave. ‘We’re run here on mutual respect and they do seem to rise to that.’ Most see the college as a place where they can be confident concerns will be dealt with quickly and in confidence. Definitely a haven for those for whom more boisterous or insensitive environments have just not worked. ‘The college made my daughter believe in herself. I feel I owe them,’ said one parent.

Pupils and parents

A mix of mostly local professional/artistic families, who tend to be profoundly relieved that their children have found such a civilised and creative niche. Some of those who come to do GCSEs have previously been educated abroad. Others have had enough of boarding school, or failed to fit into more conventional schools. Alumni include Orlando Bloom and Helena Bonham-Carter.

Entrance

All applicants are interviewed with their parents and the college makes offers based on two criteria: candidates ‘really want to be here’ and ‘they intend to go on to higher education’. Minimum five GCSEs with 4 or above for A levels, but this liberal benchmark is generally well exceeded, not a few arriving garlanded with a multitude of 9-8s. Most from local independents and leading boarding schools, a few from the state sector and schools further afield.

Exit

Around 30 per cent leave after GCSEs. For the rest, a generous sprinkling into every permutation of arts and media - from film studies and fine art to fashion retailing and creative writing - but also to history, psychology and sociology. Sussex, Falmouth, Nottingham Trent and Leeds currently popular. One to Oxford (modern languages) in 2018.

Money matters

One scholarship of 100 per cent (based on academic merit, a statement of why they deserve a scholarship, and an interview). Two of 25 per cent may be given for outstanding exam performance at GCSE (‘We wanted to show we appreciated their intelligence.’) A limited number of bursaries awarded to students who have previously been educated in the state system who would not otherwise be able to afford private education.

Our view

A low-key, calm and friendly place, with strong teaching and results, particularly in the arts. Ideal for the ‘arty, urban misfit’ who has wilted in a more conventional environment.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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